Wellness at work: how it matters

There's been a lot of talk about wellness at work. Hardy surprising when you consider that if the health of the nation was an Olympic event, we wouldn't have been on the podium in Rio. But, as a business owner, to what extent is it my responsibility to ensure my employees are happy and healthy?


In the last study by The National Academies Press - U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health from 2013, the state of our health in the U.S. was rock bottom when compared to 16 other developed nations. In brief, it discovered that we live shorter lives and have some of the worst rates of heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes in the developed world. And that's across the board - affecting higher and lower-income people alike.

Yet, much of this could be preventable. I take my health and the health of my team very seriously. While wellness at work can sometimes be dismissed as the latest business buzzword or management fad, it's something that larger firms are embracing. And there are lots of reasons why, as smaller businesses, it may be in our interests to do so too.

Our workers want to be healthy at work

According to Humana and the Economist Intelligence Unit's survey in October 2015:

  • 67 percent of employees said participating in wellness programs increased their engagement with their employer's mission and goals.
  • 69 percent agreed health and wellness are an important part of their organization's culture
  • 91 percent said taking part in a wellbeing program improved their fitness.
  • 71 percent believed that wellness programs had at least a moderate impact in lowering their stress levels.

Worryingly, a decade or so ago, Health.gov's Health Literacy study revealed that just 12 percent of U.S. adults had proficient health literacy, adding that “available health information is too difficult for average Americans to use to make health decisions.” While the introduction of Obamacare may have altered that slightly through greater accessibility, as employers, we have a role to play in educating and enabling our workers to live more healthy lifestyles.

Workplace wellness needn't cost a fortune

As a small business, you may be thinking that you can't afford it (I did at first too), but I've put some simple things in place that my people have appreciated. They won't break the bank and can have real tangible benefits when it comes to helping to tackle sickness absence and the associated costs. In fact, American Heart Association (AHA) cites research by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans that reveals creating a wellness environment can net employers up to $3 for every $1 dollar spent on it.

So, what can you do to help your workers stay healthy?

Some of AHA's suggestions cost next to nothing to put in place, including embracing initiatives like National Walking Day and National Eating Healthy Day. Of course, as great as these are, neither of them has to be confined to a single day. Bigger companies may like to consider subsidized gym membership as an employee benefit. But for those businesses that can't run to that (pun intended) the great outdoors is its own gym. Here are some really simple things I did - and you can too...

1. Make it competitive

Employees love a bit of healthy competition. While giving everyone state-of-the-art Fitbits to track their daily steps may be too much of a dent in the budget, there are plenty of cheap pedometers out there. Why not give one to each employee and launch a step challenge with gifts and incentives as prizes for the most number of steps in a week or month?

2. Get fit for a good cause

Encourage your employees to join fundraising activities like Heart Walk. You could even put (a little) money where your mouth is by sponsoring them. And lead by example in the office itself. I like to use the stairs and drop in on colleagues rather than phoning or emailing them. It also makes for a much more social working environment.

We've even had our own charity Sports Day - three-legged races, wheelbarrow races etc. and it's not unknown for us to go out to the park down the street and play a little softball from time to time.

3. Encourage healthy choices

Healthy eating is something we can all do. And while I'm not planning on getting rid of “Donut Friday” any time soon, for the most part, we're a healthy bunch and I think that's what it's all about. There are always healthy options in our vending machine - cereal bars, real fruit drinks (not the high in sugar and additives stuff) and I try to make sure that there's a selection of fresh fruit in a bowl by the coffee pot that employees can help themselves to. You could even consider bringing in nutritional experts say once or twice a year to advise people on how to make the right dietary choices.

Other external experts you might like to think about could include help to stop smoking, other health education, or even health screening. While there may be some cost outlay involved in these, the benefits of healthier workers should make it more than worthwhile.

4. Be mindful of mental health too

You should also remember that a wellness program should cover more than just physical. That old saying ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body' is as true today as it's always been - maybe even more so now.

Stress and mental ill-health is a real problem - one that can also manifest itself in physical problems too. We all get stressed and it's pretty much impossible to eliminate it from the workplace. In fact, a little stress can even be good for you. But when it's constant, it can become a major problem.

One way to help combat stress in the workplace is to introduce flexible working. This could mean allowing your workers to work from home one or two days a week, or altering their hours - starting and finishing earlier or later. It's an arrangement that my people really like and helps them tackle any temporary problems they may be having at home such as childcare or elder care, or fit in doctor's or hospital appointments.

As well as helping reduce stress, it raises morale and positions my company as one that cares - one that people want to work for - with all the benefits of a happy and productive workforce.